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by Jacob Solomon


The fire on the Altar shall be kept burning on it… the Kohen (priest) shall burn wood on it every morning… A permanent fire shall remain burning on the Altar (6:5-6).

The Midrash (Torat Kohanim 4:10, c.f. Lev. 9:24) notes in passing that the fire which burnt on the Altar was of miraculous Divine origin. If so, why was a special commandment needed for the Kohanim to add fire to the fire? Moreover, in contrast to the Candelabrum and the Inner Altar, the fire on the main Altar had to be kept burning continually - which (according to the above Midrash) would have happened anyway without the help of the Kohanim…

One suggestion is to teach an eternal lesson to the Israelites. G-d requires our performance of the Mitzvot (Commandments) for our own good (c.f. Deut. 10:13): He is quite capable of carrying out His plans without depending on us. He doesn't need our 'fire'. Nevertheless, when He gives us an opportunity to work with Him, he is enabling us to come closer to Him.

This can be compared to the following situation. Father is working with his new computer in his study, typing out important business letters. His four year-old son enters and he is awe-struck by the computer: "Father, I also want to be on the computer. I want to work with you". Father then sits with his son and points to the right keys. Slowly, but surely, the job progresses.

Was the son of real help? True, he did type the letter - with a great deal of guidance and patience from his father. Father, however, could have written thirty letters by himself in the same space of time. However Father and son both got something else of great value. This was the experience of working together, making time for each other, and in the process coming closer to each other in deepening the father and son relationship.

R. Yasa (Shir Hashirim Rabba to Song of Songs 5:2) writes: "Open for Me the Gate of Repentance to the width of an eye of a needle, and I will open up entrances (large enough) so that wagons and coaches may pass through." Yes, the Almighty wants us to make the initial effort to come close to him (as represented here by the commandment to add our fire to His fire). The act of Teshuva (repentance) may not advance His progress, but it does advance ours, and in turn it gives the basis of a deepening relationship with Him. And the act of constant Teshuva and keeping of Mitzvot (symbolized by the act of keeping the fires continually burning) deepens that relationship even further…

Moses said to Aaron and his sons, "…You shall not leave the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for seven days… for you shall be inaugurated for a seven day period." As he (Aaron) did on this day, so G-d commanded to bring atonement on you (8:31, 33-34).

This commandment came after the Kohanim and the Mishkan (Tabernacle) had been formally initiated into G-d's service. Rashi explains the above verses to mean that for seven days the Kohanim repeated the inauguration service detailed in this Parasha, before the Shechina (Divine Presence) finally came down on the Eighth Day (Rashi to 9:23). In addition the Talmud (Yoma 3b) derives from these verses that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) must be separated from the community and prepare intensely for the Avodat Yom Ha-Kippurim (Yom Kippur service in the Temple) seven days before Yom Kippur itself.

On the face of it, it seems rather strange that this practice - detailed in the first Mishna of Masechet Yoma should be associated with this passage. After all, the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two oldest sons of Aaron, had saddened the climax of the extensive inauguration procedures. This seems all the more remarkable where, later on, the commandment of the Avodat Yom Ha-Kippurim is introduced with a reference to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (17:1).

One possible answer to this question may be found in the words that Moses said to Aaron following the death of the latter's two sons:

This is what G-d says: I shall be sanctified by those close to me, thus I shall be sanctified before the people (11:3).

This sentence has a timeless meaning. On one hand 'those close to me' refers to the tragic deaths of those who were designated to be Aaron's successors. On the other hand the words 'this is what G-d says' have an eternal aspect: G-d is always sanctified by those closest to Him and not necessarily though personal tragedy. On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol came 'close to G-d' and 'sanctified G-d' through being the only person who ever entered the Kodesh Ha-Kadashim in the Avodah ceremony. Thus the words 'I shall be sanctified by those close to me' are especially relevant to Yom Kippur, and this would be a connection between the preparations involved in the seven days of the inauguration, and that of the Kohen Gadol during the seven days before Yom Kippur.



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